Facilitation of Meetings by dfsiopmhy6


									                        Facilitation of Meetings
Ever sat through a meeting that has dragged on and on, with tempers running high, people talking
over each other and no decisions being made? Or one person dominating the whole meeting and
making all the decisions, leaving you to wonder why you bothered turning up? Most of us can
manage sitting through such a meeting for a couple of times, but then start finding excuses not to go
anymore. Unfortunately this pattern is very common in groups. It leads to frustration, ineffectiveness
and loss of group members.
However with the goodwill of the group it is quite easy to turn around the style of meetings and
actually make them an enjoyable and inspiring experience for everyone. This briefing explores the
concept of Facilitation and how it can help in creating successful and positive meetings.

                                                                 This briefing is aimed at groups using
                                                                 consensus based decision-making, a process
                                                                 that involves all members until an agreement is
                                                                 reached that is acceptable to everyone.
                                                                 However many ideas can also be applied to
                                                                 other ways of reaching decisions such as
                                                                 majority voting. To find out more about
                                                                 consensus decision-making please have a look
                                                                 at the briefings Consensus Decision-Making
                                                                 and Consensus Flowchart (Available from
                                                                 our website: www.seedsforchange.org.uk).
                                                                 For a discussion of tools used in facilitation
                                                                 please refer to the briefing Facilitation Tools.
                                                                 Terms in italics are explained in the glossary.

The role of meetings in group work

Meetings are a necessary part of working in groups –
they give us the chance to share information, to reach                Was the meeting successful?
decisions and to get jobs done. However, meetings                     Tasks – what got done? Did you get the
have another important function, which is often                       needed results? Did problems get solved
forgotten about - group maintenance. A good meeting                   and things planned to meet the objective
not only gets work done, but also involves, supports                  of the group?
and empowers the participants, creating a high level of
energy and enthusiasm. A sense of community and                       Maintenance – How did it get done?
connection to fellow group members is the basis for                   How did people feel and how will this
successful group work and social change. Good                         affect morale and group cohesion? Did
facilitation will help you to achieve all of this.                    the meeting make good use of the
                                                                      pooled talents? Was it enjoyable?

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What is Facilitation
A facilitator is essentially a helper for the group to have an efficient and inclusive meeting.
Depending on the group a facilitator might:
      help the group decide on a structure and process for the meeting and to keep to it
      keep the meeting focussed on one item at a time until decisions are reached
      regulate the flow of discussion – drawing out quiet people and limiting over-talking
      clarify and summarise points, test for consensus and formalise decisions
      help the group in dealing with conflicts.

To ensure that the group is using the most effective means of working through topics the facilitator
might introduce tools such as brainstorming, go-rounds or small-group discussion. See our Briefing
on Tools for Facilitating Meetings for an overview of such tools.

                                 Superficially a facilitator fills a role similar to that of the traditional
 What the dictionary says:
                                 chairperson. There are however important differences. A facilitator
 Facilitation \Fa*cil`i*ta"tion\,
 n. making easy, the act of
                                 never “directs” the group without its consent. At no time does the
 assisting or making easier the  facilitator make decisions for the group or take on functions which
 progress or improvement of      are the responsibility of the group as a whole. A good facilitator
 something.                      stays neutral and helps the members of the meeting be aware that it
                                 is their business being conducted. The success of the meeting is the
                                 mutual responsibility of the whole group. The facilitator needs to be
aware of this and always get the group’s agreement before using processes or tools.

Facilitation is a vital role that needs to be filled at every meeting. In small groups this function may
be shared or rotated informally. However, difficult meetings or meetings with a larger number of
participants (more than 8 or 10 people) should always have a clearly designated and experienced
facilitator. All members of the meeting should feel responsible for the progress of the meeting, and
help the facilitator if necessary.

Learn to facilitate
The role of facilitator can be learnt by everyone. Use your own experience of meetings and observe
other facilitators. Learn from mistakes, from bad meetings as well as good ones. If the role of
facilitator is rotated amongst group members, people can develop these skills. It is well worth
conducting training, aside from normal meeting times, to practice facilitation skills. These skills are
not only useful in group meetings but also in informal settings, at work and at home.
Be aware that individual and group behaviour is influenced by individual needs and past positive and
negative experiences in groups. Try to spot your own negative behaviour patterns and work on
identifying your own and other people's needs.

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A Facilitator's Skills and Qualities

    Little emotional investment                      Energy                              Understanding
    in the issues discussed. Avoid                   and                                 of tasks for the
    manipulating the meeting                         attention                           meeting as well as
    towards a particular outcome. If                 for the job                         long-term goals of
    this becomes difficult, step out of              at hand.                            the group.
    role and let someone else
    facilitate.                                                             Confidence
                            Good listening skills           that good
                            including strategic             solutions will
                            questioning to be able to       be found and
                            understand everyone's           consensus
                            viewpoint properly.             can be
                                                                           Assertiveness that is not
                                                                           overbearing - know when
           Respect for all participants                                    to intervene decisively and
           and interest in what each                                       give some direction to the
           individual has to offer.                                        meeting.
                                     Clear thinking and observation .
                                     Attend both to the content of the
                                     discussion and the process. How are
                                     people feeling?

Other roles at a meeting
To make the job of the facilitator easier you can introduce other roles to a meeting. Instead of just
one facilitator you could have two or more co-facilitators. These are able to take turns facilitating
and give support to each other. This is useful if the facilitator needs to step out of his/her role
because of a wish to participate in the discussion, or to have a break, or when back-up is needed in
cases of tension, conflict or confusion. If the meeting is large, the co-facilitator can help the
facilitator keep track of who wishes to speak.
The person not actively facilitating can also pay more attention to the emotional atmosphere of the
meeting and look after how individual members are affected. This is often called vibeswatching. In
situations of conflict and distress the vibeswatcher will intervene, for example by taking the role of
an intermediary, by taking time out with someone and listening to them or by suggesting breaks and
tools to improve the atmosphere of the meeting. To be a good vibeswatcher you need to be able to
sense underlying feelings - listen carefully and check body language.
Another role that supports the facilitator is that of timekeeper. The timekeeper draws attention to
the agreed time frame for the meeting and keeps the group to it, negotiating extensions if needed.
Notetakers or recorders keep track of decisions, take minutes, collect reports, and also draw
attention to incomplete decisions – for example who is going to contact so and so, and when?
In very large meetings it is advisable to have a co-ordinator, who is resonsible for the venue,
equipment, refreshments and notices. The co-ordinator can also gather people together to start on

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Facilitating a Meeting - Beginning to End

This section gives an overview of the possible tasks of a facilitator in a meeting. It is important to be
aware that every meeting is different. Not all the points mentioned may be appropriate – use your
own judgement and innovation. Make sure that the goals of the group and members' expectations of
the facilitator are clear to everyone. This allows the appropriate use of tools and suggestions.

Preparing the meeting
      Collect agenda items and plan a tentative agenda. Estimate and write down time needed for each
      item. Think about priorities for this meeting – which items could be tackled another time or in
      smaller groups? Think about effective processes/tools for difficult or controversial topics. Deal
      with difficult items after the the group has warmed up but before it is tired. Alternate short and
      long items. How should the meeting start and end? Consider a process to gather the group such
      as introductions, games or excitement sharing. See our briefing Tools for Facilitation for some
      ideas. Plan in breaks, especially if the meeting will be longer than 1½ hours. Plan in time for an
      evaluation of the meeting near the end.
      Write the proposed agenda on a blackboard or flip chart or give individual copies to everyone.
      This will be helpful during the meeting as well as democratising the process of agenda formation.
      Ensure that everyone is informed about time, place and content of the meeting. Distribute pre-
      meeting materials if necessary.
    Be aware of the physical arrangements such as temperature, air quality, ability to hear and see.
    Consider any special needs participants might have and how to cater for them. Arrange the seating
    in an inclusive way – some groups find circles are best because they allow everyone to see each
    other, while other groups prefer rows so that people can seat themselves according to how
    committed they feel to the group. In the case of rows, many groups have found a V formation to
    be useful, like seargeant's stripes with the point away from the front. In our experience the best
    seating arrangement is when there are no seats and people choose their own positions on big
    cushions or on the floor.
    Gather materials needed for the meeting, e.g. pens, marker pens, flipcharts, written presentations
    and proposals.
    Find an alternative facilitator who can step in in case of emergency, or if the main facilitator tires
    or wants to participate more actively in discussion.

During the meeting
    Introduce yourself.
    Introductory process to gather the group. This really depends on the group – make sure not to
    alienate newcomers. Examples are excitement sharing, games, singing, sitting quietly in a circle
    holding hands (or not). If people don’t know each other or there are newcomers to the group, get
    everyone to introduce themselves. This is really important for welcoming new people. Encourage
    people to share more than just their names. You could ask everyone to state in a couple of
    sentences why they are here or to share an interesting skill they have (e.g. 'I can compose poetry in
    Mongolian'). Or ask for their favourite colour, food etc. If there are too many people this could be
    done in smaller groups.
      Set the boundaries of the meeting: explain the time frame, subject, aims of meeting,
      responsibility of facilitator and what you aim to do. Outline what behaviour is acceptable/not
      acceptable in meeting (e.g. one person speaking at a time, non-sexist/racist language, no
      dominating/threatening behaviour).

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                                           See that an agenda is formed and agreed upon. If you have
         Glossary of Tools                 prepared an agenda, explain your ideas. Go through the
  Brainstorming - A way of                 whole agenda, then ask for comments and make necessary
  quickly gathering a large number         changes. Be careful not to spend half the meeting discussing
  of ideas. Start by stating the           which item should go where. Be firm if necessary. Allocate
  issue. Ask people to say whatever        time for each item and set a realistic finishing time. Keep to
  comes into their heads as fast as        this. If using consensus decision-making make allowance for
  possible - without censoring it.         extra time to go deeper into the issue if necessary.
  This encourages creativity and
  frees energy. Write down all             Ensure that the other roles such as recorder, timekeeper and
  ideas for later discussion.              vibeswatcher are covered.
  Excitement sharing -                     Use short agenda items, fun items, announcements and
  People share something good or           breaks throughout the agenda to provide rest and relief from
  exciting that has happened to            the more taxing items.
  them recently/since the last
  meeting. Good at start of                Go through the agenda item by item. Keep the group
  meetings as it creates a lot of          focussed on one item at a time until a decision has been
  positive energy and puts people          reached, even if the decision is to shelve it for some other
  more in touch with each other's          time. Decisions on action steps include what, how, who,
  lives.                                   when and where.
  Go-rounds - Everyone takes a
  turn to speak without interruption       If new items come up in the discussion make sure they get
  or comment from other people.            noted down to be dealt with later.
  Go-rounds help to gather                 Invite and regulate discussion. Clarify proposals put
  opinions, feelings and ideas as          forward. State and restate the position of the meeting as it
  well as slowing down the                 appears to be emerging until agreement is reached.
  discussion and improving
  listening. Make sure that                Make sure the participants are using the most effective
  everyone gets a chance to speak.         means of accomplishing tasks and reaching decisions.
  Talking stick - People may               Introduce tools such as brainstorming options, forming
  speak only when they hold the            small groups for discussion, delegating to committees, go-
  talking stick. This makes people         rounds etc.
  conscious of when they interrupt
  others.                                  Regulate the flow of discussion by calling on speakers.
  ➔ For more tools see our                 Help everyone to particpate - draw out quiet people, limit
      briefing Tools for Meetings.         over-talking, don't let anyone dominate the discussion. Use
                                           tools such as talking sticks or breaking into small groups to
                                           equalise participation and to create a safe atmosphere for
      expressing opinions and feelings.
      Tune in to the overall feeling of the group throughout the meeting - check energy levels, interest
      in the subject, whether the aims are being fulfilled, is the structure appropriate (large/small
      groups), time.
      Encourage individuals to pursue on their own projects or ideas in which they have a strong
      interest, but in which the group does not.
      Be positive: use affirmation and appreciation, and comment on special contributions of members
      and accomplishments of the group.
      In tense or tiring situations try humour, affirmation, games, changing seats, silence, a groups nap
      etc. Some group might rebel at the suggestion of “wasting time” on a game, but will welcome a
      stretch break or informal hilarity.
      Challenge put-downs and discriminatory remarks.

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      Make sure a time and place for the next meeting has been agreed and that people leave their
      contact details if they want to be updated. Do this before people start leaving.
      Sum up and provide some satisfying closure to the meeting.

Facilitating for consensus
      Below are some tips for facilitating a group that is using consensus decision-making. For an in-
      depth discussion of consensus please have a look at our briefing Consensus Decision-making.
      A real consensus comes only after bringing differences out into the open. Encourage everyone to
      present their viewpoints, especially when they may be conflicting.
      Listen carefully for agreements and concerns. When a decision cannot be made, state points of
      agreement and of hesitancy. Find out where worries come from, so that they can be resolved or
      new proposals can be drawn up that take them into account.
      Test for agreement periodically. This helps to clarify disagreements. State the tentative consensus
      in question form and be specific. If you are not clear how to phrase the question ask for help.
       Do not mistake silence for consent. Insist on a response from every participant. The group needs
      to be conscious of making a contract with each other.
      When there is time pressure or the group has lapsed into nit-picking, it can help to state the
      perceived agreement in the negative: Is there anyone who does not agree that…?
      Be suspicious of agreements reached too easily – test to make sure that members really are fully
      supportive of the decision and do agree on essential points.
      When no agreement can be reached, try the following: Ask those disagreeing for alternative
      proposals / Propose a break or silence or postponing the decision to give people time to cool
      down and reflect / If the decision is postponed it is often a good idea to engage conflicting parties
      in conflict resolution before the issue is brought up again.
      When one or two people are blocking consensus, ask if they are prepared to stand aside, to allow
      the group to proceed with the action (standing aside = not being involved in a decision and its
      consequences). It may help if the group assures them that the lack of unity will be recorded in the
      minutes, that the decision does not set a precedent and that they are not expected to carry out the

                                         Top Tips for Facilitators
                            Design a good agenda. Set time limits and tackle all points.
                            Watch both for content and process.
                            Keep the group moving towards its aims.
                            Use lots of facilitation tools.
                            Get the best possible contribution from everyone.
                            Create a safe and empowering atmosphere.
                            Put a stop to domineering, interrupting, put-downs and guilt trips.

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                                      Further Reading
Try your local library first - they are generally quite happy to order or even buy books for you. If you
decide to buy a book, get it from one of the radical/indepent bookshops - they all do mail order! Try
News from Nowhere in Liverpool (0151 708 7270) or Housmans Bookshop in London (020 7278

Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making
Sam Kaner with Lenny Lind, Catherine Toldi, Sarah Fisk and Duane Berger, New Society
Publishers, 1996, ISBN: 0-86571-347-2

Democracy in Small Groups - Participation, Decision-Making and Communication
John Castill, New Society Publishers, 1993
ISBN: 0 86571 274 3

Resource Manual for a Living Revolution
Virginia Coover, Ellen Deacon, Charles Esser, Christopher Moore, New Society Publishers, 1981,
ISBN: 0-86571-008-2

Working with Conflict
Fisher et al, Zed Books, 2000
ISBN: 1 85649 837 9

The Mediator's Handbook
Jennifer E. Beer with Eileen Stief, New SocietyPublishers, 3rd edition, 1997,
ISBN: 0-86571-359-6, developed by Friends Conflict Resolution Programs

From Conflict to Cooperation - How to Mediate A Dispute
Dr Beverly Potter,
Ronin Publishing, 1996
ISBN: 0-914171-79-8

www.seedsforchange.org.uk                 Facilitation of Meetings                           Page 7
                                                                                 for Ch ang e

                               For more briefings on grassroots activism
                            and to find out about free workshops and training
                                       have a look at our website:


                                            Or contact us:

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               Lancaster LA1 1TD                                             Oxford OX4 1BG
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       Scotland, Northern England and North                              South East England, South West
                      Wales                                             England, the Midlands and South &
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                                   Feel free to copy and distribute it!

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